My god, this movie is the greatest defeat…and victory…
–Philip K. Dick, “Exegesis”
It’s the end of 1981, and science-fiction author Philip K. Dick should, by all rights, be ecstatic. After decades of struggle, he had finally reached a point not only of critical and mass-market recognition of his work—but a major film adaptation was in the works based on his story Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?.
But instead of considering this a great achievement, Dick found it to be his greatest—and, as it would turn out unfortunately, last—spiritual “temptation.”
As Dick described it in his Exegesis, he was asked to rewrite (or authorize a revision of) Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? so it more “fit” its cinematic adaptation Blade Runner. This “new” version would “replace” the old story, I guess cutting down “brand confusion.”
Now, this sort of thing—sort of messing with the original creator’s vision for profit—is common in Hollywood and the entertainment industry in general. But Dick, who was by this time DEEP within his metaphysical/religious musings in the Exegesis, saw this more than just a simple case of Hollywood fuckery.
He saw this as his “last temptation”:
The movie is defeat; the novel victory, ostensible vast loss, secret good shining almost invisibly from beneath this defeat, these fascist power fantasies they’ve made it into.
While Dick had made some public remarks regarding Blade Runner’s faithfulness to his vision, privately in his Exegesis he said exactly the opposite—decrying the film as containing “Heinlein power fantasies” and even literally referring to it as “Satan”:
Look at what it would have done to me spiritually and psychologically and politically. My soul is safe, and it was in jeopardy. This is why I see victory despite the vast defeat.
Needless to say: Dick neither wrote nor authorized the “new” Blade Runner novel. What he decided to do instead was…work on the “VALIS” trilogy. And he saw the deeper spiritual “purpose” of the Blade Runner movie to him personally, which was to force him to make that decision and reaffirm his commitment to work contained deep meaning to him:
Viewed in terms of God’s strategy, Blade Runner has been used as a means to an end, the end being the kerygma in Androids. Thus to have suppressed Androids and either written or authorized the novelization based on this screenplay would have been to hand over victory to evil.
Of course, to many in Hollywood and entertainment industry circles, Dick was simply being a fool, a crazy-person—turning down that extra money and notoriety for the new Blade Runner novel in exchange for some rantings about “good and evil.” But this is the industry who, over 35 years later, would allegedly turn a deaf ear to Dick’s daughter Isa Hackett’s claim that she was grossly sexually harassed by one of their high-ranking executives while working on two of his TV adaptations.
So maybe Dick wasn’t so crazy after all.
More to read about on Butterfly Language:
One Of The More Obscure Philip K. Dick Movies: “Radio Free Albemuth”
Review: The Exegesis Of Philip K. Dick
Take a First Look At Philip K. Dick’s “Electric Dreams” TV Series